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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Monday, August 1, 2016

Only for Show

It was sickening the way fat George treated those fine saddle horses.  There was not a mean horse in the bunch but he mistreated them all the time—jerking their heads with the reins of those Spanish-style riding bits and kicking them when they did not move when they should.
George’s precocious four-year-old son, Kit, put the snapper on one day and convinced me that I should have a chat with Charlie Barnett about George.  One noontime I was eating my sack lunch in the tack room when Kit wandered in.  I asked him if he had had his lunch.  “oh, yes,” he said airily, “I ate but Mama wants me to go outside when Daddy diddles her unless it’s raining—then sometimes I watch if they don’t shut the door tight.”
“When he does what?!”
“When he diddles her—you know, he takes down his overalls and she gets on the bed and spreads out her legs.  He sticks his peter into her hole—that’s diddling, dummy!”
At the next opportunity when no one else was around, I had a long chat with Charlie.  I told him exactly how I felt about George, how lazy he was, how he mistreated the horses.  When I first came to work, it was obvious that some of the box stalls had not been cleaned and fresh straw put in for more than a week.  By that time both Charlies and Art Farr had a great deal of respect for the way I worked and handled the horses so Charlies listened.  A week later George, his wife, and Kit had packed up and gone.
George’s replacement as barn boss did not turn out to be much of an improvement.  I gorget his last name, if I ever knew it, but his first name was Gus.  Art Farr hired him and I always suspected that Art found him on skid row.  When he was hired, Gus talked them into an advance so he could buy some proper clothes.  Hel did not get overalls or coveralls (which I wore in preference to bib overalls) or other proper work clothes.  Instead, he went to town and came back dressed in a pair of green riding breeches, a green checkered shirt, and an Army campaign hat.  I had to stifle a belly laugh when I saw him because, not being able to afford a pair of riding boots, he had bought a pair of leather puttees (his excuse was that boots hurt his feet).
It was quickly obvious that Gus had no intention of forking horse manure and straw out of the stalls very often so the burden of the work continued to fall on me.  Gus usually puttered around in the tack room, presumably cleaning saddles.  More often than not I saw him swigging a drink of fortified wine out of a bottle he always had stashed in there behind a pile of saddle blankets.  Evidently Gus had no home as he brought a tent and set it up out on the river side of the stables and that is where he slept.
I quit the Columbia Riding Academy two weeks before school was to start.  Farr wanted me to stay on through a horse show the following week, but I had enough of him and that goldbrick wino, Gus.  I wanted some free time before school started.  The family was glad because I would no longer come breezing in right at suppertime smelling to high heaven of the stables.  I was not allowed to come to the table until I had cleaned up and changed clothes.  I paid no attention to the smell of the horse manure and sweat, but Dick and Rex would hold their noses when I came in and little Sandra (obviously coached by Dick) would giggle and shout, “Stinky Connie!”
It was not quite the last of the Columbia Riding Academy, however.  The horse show was to be the following Thursday evening after I quit.  On that Thursday, around noon, Charlie Barnett telephoned.  He wanted help.
“Frieze,” he said plaintively, “you gotta help me out.  That show is this evening and that samn wino Gus is so drunk he doesn’t even know which saddle goes on which horse!  He’s got everyting all mixed up!  I really need you!”
Well, I dunno.  I sort of had plans for this evening.
Charlie was desperate.  “Look, I’ve got a couple of hands to help with putting up the jumps and such, but they don’t know diddly about the horses and tack.  I’ll pay you five bucks out of my own pocket and you can be the barn boss for the evening.”
“Well, okay, Mr. Barnett.  I’ll do it but you know Gus won’t like it.  He likes to be the big man when the lady riders are around.”
Charlie breathed an audible sigh of relief.  “Don’t worry about Gus.  I’ll keep him out of the way.  I will give him a bottle of whiskey and tell him to stay in his tent all evening or I’ll kick his butt out.  May do that anyway as soon as I can find someone else.  He is so drunk right now on that cheap wine that I don’t think he knows what day it is!  Come as soon as you can.”
It is a good thing that I got to the academy a couple of hours before the horse show.  Charlie was right.  Everything was a mess.  Horses were not groomed, saddles were on the wrong racks, and the bridles were all mixed up.  The sawdust area was freshly harrowed, but only because Charlie had done it himself in the afternoon.  He was as good as his work, too.  I peeked into Gus’ tent out back and he was snoring away on his rumpled cot, a nearly empty whisky bottle beside him.
After a fast scramble, the show went off just fine.  Charlie had rounded up three men to help and had them dressed in white overalls.  They helped handle the horses and the equipment in the arena.  Every horse and rider went through the door right on schedule except there was a minor holdup when we got the drill team ready to take the arena for the finale which I don’t think anhyone but Art Farr noticed.
It took quite a while to bed down all the horse and get the gear put away properly.  It was about eleven o’clock when I came out of the tack room and found both Charlie and Art Farr waiting on the platform for me.  Charlie handed me the promised five dollars.
I waited for Farr to jump me about the delay with the Lancers but he didn’t.  He took the igar out of his mouth, twisted his face into what pass for a friendly grin, and said, “We wanted to talk to you about next year, boy.”
Charlie looked at Farr with a frown for that “boy” and spoke up, “Frieze, I know you are graduating from high school next year and we would like you back.  You would probably be the yojngest barn boss in history, but the job is yours if you want it.  Pay would be fifty—no, sixty dollars a month.  You think it over and let us know. “
I ducked my head and scratched it, then with a wry grin looked them in the eye and said, “I’m much obliged to you Mister Barnett—and Mister Farr—but I don’t think so.  I love those horses and will miss them, but to be honest with you, I’m going to join the Navy as soon as school is out net year.  Thank you just the same.”
Charlie shrugged and they both said goodbye and good luck.  I put on my brown leather jacket, zipped it up, tucked my white overalls under my arm, and started the long walk home across the bride through the darkness.
(There was an unhappy footnote to my time with the Columbia Riding Academy.  Two years later when I came home on boot leave, I was informed that the riding academy had burned and most of the horses had died in the fire.  I stopped by to look at the blackened ruins of the arena and stables and was glad I had not been there.  I preferred to remember Don Dee, Clown, Joker and the little balck mare, and the other as I had last seen them.)

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